Minister Shorten doorstop interview at an NDIS Community Catch Up event in Brisbane

FRIDAY 24 MAY 2024

SUBJECTS: NDIS IT reforms; NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission; NDIS Senate inquiry; China’s actions in Taiwan Strait

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: We had more than 600 people for today's forum, which is great. One bit of good news they're going to hear today, and I'm able to inform Australians, is that in the budget last week, we were able to find $160 million over the next four years to modernise the information technology of the NDIS safety watchdog. So, there'll be much needed improvements needed for really the last 10 years, to be able to have modern forms of investigating and monitoring to make sure that some people, some service providers, are not ripping off people with disability and the tax. I might just hand over to Commissioner Mike Phelan to make some further statements about this important development into improving the NDIS quality and safety concerns.

MIKE PHELAN, NDIS QUALITY AND SAFEGUARDS COMMISSIONER: Thank you, Minister. And last Wednesday, last Tuesday night when we received the money from the budget, it was an extremely important event for the Commission. Trying to be a modern regulator, trying to work with 1990s data is extremely difficult. We have databases at the moment where our complaints, doesn't match our registrations, doesn't match our reportable. So now with the investment of those funds, will be able to build a system where all of those things can talk to each other. If you want to be a modern regulator, you have to use modern intelligence techniques to be able to do that. And the purpose of that is not only to be responsive, but to also look to the future, to get ahead of problems before they become problems. And, you know, from my sense, my history is in national security and intelligence, and I know that you cannot look to address future problems without looking at the information that you currently have. We want to put it in a format that not only sees us being responsive to everybody, but also being extremely proactive. This will help us be far more timely in the things we do, and it will also help drive some of the costs out of the system as well. We'll be able to get, because we have more information, some of the dodgy providers out of the system and therefore more money clawed back to those that actually deserving.

JOURNLIST: Minister, people with disabilities told a Senate inquiry this week your legislation before Parliament would be more harmful than helpful without amendments. Will you be making changes to it?

SHORTEN: We are committed to getting the NDIS back on track, to making sure that every dollar gets through to the people for whom the Scheme was designed. We want to make the Scheme fairer, more transparent, and more accountable. It is growing too fast. We believe that if we can moderate the growth of the Scheme, it will be there for future generations. We've now got some initial legislation to start the journey of improving the outcomes in the Scheme for people with disabilities. This is after a year plus review and implementing the changes that the review has proposed. We are not arrogant. We will take on board the submissions. That's why we have a transparent Senate review process, and certainly I'm listening very carefully to some of the really constructive suggestions being made by people with disability and their advocates to further improve the legislation before it finally gets voted on.

JOURNALIST: The states and territories are calling for a slowdown on this. Are you open to going back to the negotiating table to work out a clearer timeline with them?

SHORTEN: People with disability and the people who love them don't have time to waste. We've had a four year plus Disability Royal Commission. For the whole of last year, we had a root and branch review of the NDIS. We'll work with the states. There'll be no overnight change, but we're not going to wait because people of disability deserve better. You can't have a Scheme growing at 20% per year. You can't have some of the waste and the fraud going on. You can't have some of the issues in the Scheme which are currently present and ignore them forever and a day. So, we'll work with the states, but we won't necessarily wait for them until they’re ready, because unfortunately, people with disability are sick of just what I'd call the mirror syndrome that people keep saying we must look into it. It's the time for mirrors is over. The time for action is upon us.

JOURNALIST: How much is this IT change with the NDIS contributing to the increase in cost that the NDIS is costing the Government essentially, in the budget papers, that was revealed last week?

SHORTEN: I think that the IT changes are just part of the overdue investment in the Scheme and its administration. I think previous governments have had a sort of had a microscopic view of the NDIS. They've just viewed it as a payment system. Spray the money out into the ether and just hope it works out. That's not good enough. I think that Australians, especially people with disability, the participants, their families, but also taxpayers, they have an expectation that if we're paying out money, we know where it's going and how it's being used. This IT overhaul will absolutely take us from state-of-the-art 1988 to state-of-the-art 2024.

JOURNALIST: Just a couple of questions for Mike before I go to another topic for you, Minister. You said in 2022, Mike, that as much as 20% of NDIS costs each year is being misused. Can you provide a progress update on that and how much do you think this is still being abused by crime groups?

PHELAN: Yeah. Look, I remember, I certainly made those comments in 2022, in my position as head of the crime commission, and to be perfectly honest, I haven't stepped back from that position. When we made those, I made that assessment, we didn't have perfect information for us. We only had, uh, what we got from the intelligence inside the commission, our own crime commission. But now that I've been involved in working with the NDIS, it's arguable I was a little bit conservative, particularly given some of the things that are happening. Right? So, there's been a lot that's happening to be able to redress that, but it will take a little bit of time.

JOURNALIST: And how big of a problem is service providers seeking automatic top ups to packages? And how many packages do you expect will be affected by changes to top ups?

PHELAN: It's hard to say how many packages will be affected, but the intra-plan inflation is a massive problem, right? We're even today I hear reports about how it's happening, and that's the sort of stuff that we need to drive out of the system, that requires not a lot of work to drive that out. People just, plan providers in particular need to remember who they're responsible for. They're there to provide a service for the participant, not for self, not for themselves, not to enrich themselves, and not to do dodgy practices.

JOURNALIST: Just one last question from the Minister, I know you've got to hop off. Beijing says it wants to deliver strong punishment for Taiwan separatist acts and is sending ships, jets, and coast guard to encircle Taiwan. Does this look like bullying to you?

SHORTEN: Yes. It's deeply concerning and worrying, the latest Chinese manoeuvring. We all need peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Common sense should prevail, but there's no doubt that sending a fleet out in this way is a very coercive gesture.

JOURNALIST: Australia is trying to boost those trade ties with China. What actions can the country, can we take essentially to try and take a stance against this?

SHORTEN: We can be a good global citizen. We back the rule of law. We back our freedom of navigation. That's what we do. We've made it very clear that we will work with China where it's in our national interest to. But we've also made very clear our support for freedom of navigation and a stable South China Sea.